There could be tons of reasons why one would want to soundproof a room in their apartment. Could be an unapologetically loud neighbor, snoring apartment-mates, or you could be the one planning to make noise.
Whatever the case may be, you can soundproof a room in an apartment building with adept handyman skills or with the help of a professional. Soundproofing a room in an apartment requires shutting down all the gaps and holes, “softening” at least 40% of the (hard) surfaces that reflect sounds, and reducing transmission of vibrations from sound waves.
Simply put, you will have to prevent all (or most) of the sound from coming in or going out from the apartment room. This could be a temporary or permanent soundproofing solution.
Where Is The Noise Coming From?
Noise can enter your apartment room from multiple sources. You cannot use the same soundproofing technique or material to mitigate all kinds of these sounds. The solution you pick must be appropriate for the source of the sound.
You don’t necessarily have to soundproof the whole apartment, all you have to do is pin down the weak spots and treat them. Noise in a room of an apartment could be coming from:
The Other Room
The biggest source of noise could be from the room above, below, or on either side of your house. When energetic sound waves hit walls, they transfer their kinetic (motion) energy to the wall and make it vibrate with the same frequency as their own. This vibration is transmitted from one object to another until the sound waves completely dissipate their energy.
These vibrations translate into muffled sounds at the other end of the wall, i.e., your room, and cause disturbance and unease. The best solution for reducing noise traveling through the walls is to make modifications to the wall.
You will have to select a soundproofing product that can absorb sound waves and restrict their transit to stop noise from entering your room from this source.
Sounds from outside the apartment are not always the problem. Sometimes the issue could be with the behavior of sounds inside your room. Sound waves emitted from one corner of the room could be projecting to the other parts just as loudly due to exposed reflective surfaces.
Sound waves travel in a linear motion and bounce back to continue their motion if they hit a hard, plain surface. These bouncing waves then interact with one another and cause distortion and issues like standing waves, echoes, or reverberations.
For reflections and echoes, the best solution is sound absorption. You need to limit the number of reflected waves in the room’s air to eliminate unwanted noise in the room.
Gaps And Holes
Holes and gaps in walls, windows, or doors of a room can easily go unnoticed. For some rooms, these very holes could be the sole culprit for noise. They could be in the form of open cable holes or an opening for a fixture in the wall.
Open spaces let sound waves directly inside the room and the best way to deal with them is to seal them up. This could be done permanently with materials like cement, or temporarily with Green Glue or fiberglass.
Ceiling And Floor
Ceilings and floors are the largest areas that are affected by impact noise. Impact noise, also known as structure-borne noise, refers to the sound that is transmitted when one object impacts another. The impact transmits structural vibrations and radiates sound.
If the apartment has a thin ceiling, you may even get to hear conversations from your upstairs neighbors. You can ask the neighbors to lay down some heavy carpets or rugs to reduce some of the noise traveling down. If this doesn’t work, go for ceiling insulation.
Although it is rare for noise to come from below, it can still be a reason for the noise. Floors are also easy to soundproof as you can just simply lay down some carpets and rugs.
Doors And Windows
Doors are thin and (mostly) hollow. They let a lot of noise inside, or outside. Doors are the largest gaps in a wall and a lot of noise leaks in from the space at the bottom and around the door.
You will have to add mass and weight to a light door and close all the possible gaps on it. Some sound will still leak through the gap between the frame and door when you use the door but it can be minimized by the use of acoustic seals.
Just like doors, windows also let noise inside the room from gaps or small openings. Using rubber seals and plugs can temporarily block outside noise. However, you can also close the windows by building a wall against them, if you’re looking to permanently block noise from the room.
Like any other openings, holes, and spaces for ventilation can also invite tons of unwanted sound waves into the room. The working of the ventilation system itself produces a lot of noise.
Since removing the ventilation system is not an option, you can soundproof the vents that open up into your room.
How To Soundproof A Room In An Apartment?
Now that you have some idea of areas that must always be considered when soundproofing an apartment room, you can move forward to soundproofing them. Here are ways you can soundproof your room in an apartment building:
1. Cover And Seal Doors And Windows
As discussed, sound can seep in or out of your room through small cracks and openings in doors and windows. Now, if sound entering through the door is a major problem or one of the main causes of noise in your room, you may want to consider replacing it altogether!
You can ask the landlord, or invest in a new and heavy door that will act as a barrier to sound. If this is not an option, you can always opt for door pads, door sweeps, and plugs to cover up open and problematic spaces.
Apartment doors are usually hollow and or may have little to no core material. They not only let the noise resonate through the door, but the hollow space also amplifies it. You can use an acoustic door seal kit to soundproof doors and windows in your room.
If you’re low on budget, you can simply buy a pipe insulation foam to cover the base of the door. You can also put waterproof weather stripping to close off the rest of the space.
For any kind of window, a window seal kit is the most appropriate option. If you wish, it also allows you to add another layer of glass. An additional window seal track is installed in front of the existing one for the next layer. This creates a dead space between the two or decouples the two glass layers which further hinders noise transmission through the window.
Moreover, heavy curtains or draping over windows, as well as doors, also help a great deal. You can use draft guards as well to seal the bottom of the door.
2. Cover The Walls
Covering the walls will reduce a significant amount of noise entering your room. Walls need to be loaded with mass to absorb sound waves. This will not only eliminate unwanted reflections and noise, but adding mass will also balance the sonic environment of the room.
For actual and complete soundproofing of walls, you would require a large amount of construction work done. Merely hanging sound absorbing panels or acoustic foam on the wall will not do the job if there is any structural issue that is leading to noise transfer.
Usually, stud partition walls include a very minimal amount of insulation. There is no consideration of decoupling or isolation in such constructions. You will have to install drywall or mineral/sheep/rock wool insulation inside the wall structure to soundproof it.
There are three principles for soundproofing a wall in an apartment room:
By adding extra mass to the walls and strategically placing sound-absorbing material across or within walls you can control noise transmission. The most effective of the three is decoupling. This is where you will isolate the wall itself from the structure of the apartment building to completely stop sound waves from traveling in or out of the room.
Generally, adding softer surfaces such as wall hangings or canvas paintings can greatly reduce noise. For adding more mass, you can use soundproofing wallpaper or paints as well. These soundproofing wallpapers are made of mass-loaded vinyl or other sound damping material to prevent them from vibrating too much.
3. Insulate Ceilings And Floors
There is not much you can do to soundproof the ceiling of a room in an apartment already built. Permanently soundproofing such ceilings is a huge and costly task. The best way to soundproof the ceiling of a room in an apartment is to install acoustic foam, acoustic panels, or acoustic clouds.
These acoustic solutions offer both mass and absorption. They are covered by a layer of fabric that allows sound waves to travel in and dissipate their energy into layers of mass. They also provide insulation against cold or hot weather with this additional layer.
Hardwood floors sure look fantastic, but they are one of the largest surfaces to vibrate as well as reflect sound waves in an apartment. You can spare your neighbor downstairs from some trouble, by adding a pad or rug to these hard floors. It’s not only about the amount of noise you’re transmitting to the downstairs apartment, a bare hard floor is also responsible for echo in your room.
Sound waves reflect off of the floor and are projected back into the room where it collides and distorts other waves. Carpeting and adding plush rugs will help absorb such waves. You should get a cut-pile carpet instead of a loop-pile. Cut-pile are known to absorb sound much better than the loop-pile ones because of their additional fuzz.
For rigorous soundproofing, you may need to open up the floors and add an underlayment made of soundproofing material. This is not an option for most people living in an apartment.
4. Add Bookshelves And Other Built-ins
A faux built-in bookcase, cabinets, racks, or a decorative structure against the wall will also help cover up your wall. Bookshelves are more recommended for this purpose because along with the structure of the shelf itself, the books will also take in a lot of noise coming from the wall. Paper fibers have a high fiber porosity that works great for absorbing sound waves.
The idea is to simply “dress up” your walls. This is one of the easiest ways to improve acoustics within a space. You can add soft textiles, upholstered wall hangings, tapestries and other fabric-wrapped decorations. All of such additions will prevent the bouncing of sound waves around the room.
5. Soundproofing Curtains
You will commonly see soundproof curtains used for blocking sound from windows. However, their use is not just limited to windows. You can add soundproof curtains, just like acoustic blankets, on any wall of your room.
Soundproofing curtains are of course not as effective as other permanent solutions, but they work quite well to block out noise from the street or a noisy neighborhood. You can pair them up with draft stoppers if you’re hanging them on windows.
Such curtains are effective due to their mass-loaded vinyl core with a polymer blend of crushed limestone and PVC. They create a heavy-duty barrier against unwanted sound waves making their way inside or outside the room.
Another plus for these heavy curtains is that they will block out almost all the light entering through the window in the room. So, this product is a must (for multiple reasons) if you’re a day sleeper.
6. Use Soundproofing Paint
Soundproofing paints are slowly getting popular among people living in common condos or apartments. These paints prevent the transmission of sound waves through the walls of your room. They are formulated with heavy and dense substances such as vinyl acrylic or latex and some of them also leave a textured surface that helps with the absorption.
The chains of polymers bind together all the components of the paint and act as a barrier against any energy trying to trespass. These paints work best to block out faint background chatter, noise from the street, or conversation sounds from the other room. Some Thermacel based soundproof paints will also enhance the insulation of your space.
However, it must be mentioned that you should never rely only on soundproof paint if you want to seriously soundproof a room in an apartment. Soundproof paints can reduce only about 30% of the noise coming inside.
Soundproofing An Apartment Room: What Won’t Work
You will find a myriad of “tips and tricks” to block noise out of a room on the internet. Most of them are solutions you should avoid when it comes to soundproofing a room in an apartment. These myths are often rooted from a common misconception or confusion between two terms: soundproofing and sound-absorption.
Here are some of the “tricks” you should steer clear from when soundproofing your room:
1. Using Only Acoustic Panels
You will always see acoustic panels pop up whenever someone is discussing sounds in a room. It is rather a controversial solution when it comes to soundproofing because they cannot actually block sound.
Acoustic panels are designed to absorb some soundwaves and let some pass through. They are not meant to block their passage or transmission from one surface to the other. You can install acoustic panels to enhance the quality of sound in a space. They will do so quite effortlessly by solving issues like echoes, excessive reflections, and reverberations.
Alone, acoustic wall panels will not be enough to keep the external noise from entering your room in the apartment. You can line your walls and ceilings with one panel after the other, but you won’t be spared from outside noise. You will, however, get to enjoy a very quiet, balanced, and comfortable acoustic environment in the room.
2. Say No To Foam Rubber
Foam rubber is made from a mixture of gas bubbles with plastic. It is often advised to use closed-cell foam rubber for soundproofing. You should never go for a soundproofing rubber foam because:
- They DO NOT work. Their porous surfaces cannot act as an effective barrier against noise. They may be successful at blocking certain frequencies of sound but let a lot of soundwaves pass right through.
- Foam rubber is a fire hazard. It is a highly flammable product and can become extremely difficult to control once it starts burning. You cannot risk your house for a mediocre soundproofing job with this product.
Egg Crates Don’t Work
No matter how popular egg crates may be, they cannot soundproof a room. They don’t do much to reduce noise entering your room. Egg crates more or less work like acoustic panels. They don’t look nice in any space and will prove to be a waste of all your soundproofing efforts.
They lack the acoustical characteristic or value needed to block the passage of sound waves from one object to another. They can only reduce vibrations, echoes, and resonance of some frequencies.
Mattresses And Pillows Don’t Help
We’ve all had an acquaintance tell us that they hammered a mattress or tons of pillow to the wall to soundproof their room. This sure seems like a great DIY project, and might even deaden the noise from outside to some extent, but generally, this won’t work.
Piling up mattresses or pillows against a wall will take up a lot of your room space and will invite mold and mildew in the long run. The fact is, you cannot address structural noise-making flaws and faults with a few pillows.
Soundproofing A Room In An Apartment – FAQs
No matter how many hours you spend reading articles about soundproofing, you’re still left with some unanswered questions. Some of those frequently asked questions are answered below:
How to tell if an apartment is soundproof?
It’s hard to tell the kind and extent of soundproofing a room has in a single visit. Try to schedule a series of visits where you can explore the space. You can knock on the walls and the floors to see if they have been constructed with or without insulation, check for acoustic panels, ceiling clouds, soundproofing foam, etc.
More often than not, you will be able to tell if an apartment is soundproof or not when you step inside by the quality of your own sound, as you speak. Furthermore, you can always ask the landlord about the kind of soundproofing used.
What is the cheapest way of soundproofing a room?
You can temporarily and cheaply soundproof a room with heavy, thick curtains on walls, windows, or doors. Putting in plugs and seals for open spaces in windows and doors also helps. You can also add rugs, carpets, and upholstered furniture to the area to increase the number of absorptive surfaces more than reflective ones.
Does white noise help?
When all else fails, YES, white noise helps. White noise machines create a constant buzz or hum to cover up all the other sounds. You can use white noise as a last resort to control nuisance from outside.
Summing It Up
Properly and completely soundproofing a room in a busy apartment is a huge undertaking. But if you have time and funds, it’s possible and quite rewarding.
You can either go for quick fixes like hanging soundproof blankets or curtains, or installing acoustic treatment in the ceiling or walls, or you can go all in and soundproof the cores. Remember the two main principles of soundproofing: decoupling and adding mass/density to the surface.
High-density surfaces will take care of airborne noise whereas decoupling mainly handles noise coming and traveling through the structure of the place. A combination of both will help you block the noise out of your room.